The Changing Meaning of Teenagers in Today’s Digital Education and Economy

Caroline Stockman


Teenagers or adolescents are complex cultural constructions. This paper will trace a brief history on the origin of the notions as relevant to the Global North. It considers related UK educational policy, and the specific economic interest in ‘the teenage consumer’. The consideration of young people for their significant economic value sparked direct marketing and advertising strategies. Concerns over unconscious manipulation of adolescents were stilled by reassurances of autonomy and freedom of choice. In today’s digital economy, similar meaning-making occurs. However, this paper argues that a young person’s freedom and autonomy is systematically undermined. Instead, the teenager loses autonomy in becoming a direct commodity. Today’s digital culture further complicates the concrete legal and social assurance of autonomy. This is illustrated by a critique of educational technology integration in schools. Specifically, the use of young people’s data for product development or third-party business data exchange is critically discussed to show this cultural dynamic. It captures the changing conceptualisation of teenagers in society and education, from autonomy to commodity. Renewing young people’s voice and agency in digital rights activism, as well as critical digital literacy in the curriculum is now needed for teenagers to renegotiate their meaning in digital culture and education.

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